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COVER STORY

FACILITATING RENEWABLES
ROTATING MACHINERY PLAYS AN ENABLING ROLE IN ADVANCING GREEN POWER
DREW ROBB

ver the last twenty years, the

O renewable field has been incorpo-


rating traditional turbomachinery
technology as it strives to achieve
utility scale. For instance, combined
cycles powered by gas turbines are now
seen as an integral part of the renewable
build up, since they have the flexibility to
crank up and quickly step in when renew-
able power dips due to natural causes. In
geothermal projects, small increases in
expander efficiencies can have a signifi- Figure 1: Florida Power & Light’s Martin Plant
cant effect on overall project efficiency, (above) complex features 75 MW of solar that
making these more viable and able to use will work in conjunction with natural gas
low-grade heat. Figure 2: A parabolic trough arrangement in
Wind turbines are now in an Nevada
advanced stage of using turbomachinery
concepts. Novel blade designs are help- Alto, CA). “This includes natural gas
ing developers focus on bird-friendly combined cycle and pulverized coal
options. Engineering practice perfected designs.”
in traditional turbomachinery is being duce electricity. Heat is also stored in
applied to increase the reliability of wind The heat is on tanks for up to one hour via pressurized
energy systems. There are a couple of primary approach- steam kept at 285°C and 50 bar. This sub-
A classic case of renewable enthusi- es to solar power. Photovoltaics (PV) use system is used to deal with cloud tran-
asts waking up to what cutting edge tur- solar cells to convert the sun’s rays direct- sients that interrupt normal solar plant
bomachinery technology can do is solar ly into electricity. These are the flat pan- operations. Four tanks can provide 50%
power, which has so far been focused on els one sees on rooftops. While they are load operation for the turbine. In addi-
small photovoltaic cell development. The deployed on residencies and commercial tion, natural gas is burned to supplement
next wave, however, is going to be hybrid properties, utility scale PV operations are power production, contributing about
solar-fossil arrangements. beginning to appear. As well as the 12% to 15% of the total.
Solar power generation may only rep- DeSoto plant’s 25 MW, there is 60 MW A parabolic trough is the most popu-
resent about 0.2% of current generation at a site in Spain, and a 62 MW facility lar design, accounting for about 90% of
capacity in the U.S. But that is going to under construction in Portugal. Grand commercial CSP applications, according
change fast. The Edison Electric Institute plans for PV plants include 154 MW for to the analyst Mints. A 354 MW Solar
has stated that solar accounted for 13% of Australia, and a 2 GW project in China Energy Generating System (SEGS) using
all utility announcements this year, up that will be completed by 2019. this method is located in California’s
from 6% the year before. Of more interest to the turbomachin- Mojave Desert and consists of nine
Paula Mints, an analyst at Navigant ery industry is Concentrated Solar Power smaller plants clustered together, operat-
Consulting notes that at least 1 GW of (CSP), also known as solar thermal. CSP ed by FPL subsidiary NextEra Energy
solar projects were announced just on the harnesses concave lenses or mirrors to Resources. SEGS combines a small nat-
first day of the Solar Power International concentrate light into a small beam that is ural gas turbine with a solar-steam tur-
convention in Anaheim, California, in directed against a tube containing a work- bine set up to supply power to Southern
October. She predicts anywhere from 5 ing fluid of water or oil. The hot liquid is California Edison. Some 90% of the
GW to 8 GW to come online over the then used to operate a turbine power comes from solar.
next five years, though it will not sustain There is a wealth of technology Sunlight is directed from the mirrors
its annual growth rates of 51%, which options when it comes to CSP. Here are at a central tube containing synthetic oil
have prevailed since 2001. the two main ones. which can be heated to more than 400°C.
Conclusion: The solar express train is A Solar Tower (or power tower) has This heat is transferred to water to drive a
coming. The good news is that turboma- an almost holy appearance due to the cir- steam turbine.
chinery will be very much involved. cular positioning of mirrors around a cen- Another large CSP deployment is
Our surveys show that hybrid tral tower. Two such towers have been Nevada Solar One (Figure 2) with a max-
arrangements are attractive to utilities built near Seville in Spain (one 11 MW imum capacity of 75 MW and an annual
due to the ability to use existing assets and the other 20 MW). The mirrors direct output of around 134 milion kWh. It is
in solar projects, says Cara Libby, a heat received to the top of the 40-story situated south of Las Vegas and was built
solar project manager at Electric tower where a steam turbine is located. by Acciona Solar Power.
Power Research Institute (EPRI; Palo The turbine drives a generator to pro- Parabolic trough is a mature CSP tech-

16 Turbomachinery International • November/December 2009 www.turbomachinerymag.com


A GEARBOX SUITED FOR JET ENGINES Hybrids serving utilities
Brian McNiff, a consultant for the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) and owner Cris Eugster, Executive Vice President of
of McNiff Light Industry, points out that a wind turbine is very much a piece of turbo- CPS Energy — a municipally owned util-
machinery, though reliability remains an issue. As a result, all the major gearbox man- ity in Texas — plans to link up solar and
ufacturers are required by wind turbine manufacturers to test and run in their gear- wind in a hybrid arrangement. As wind
boxes prior to installation. blows mostly at night, and the sun shines
McNiff designs lifetime endurance tests at NREL’s Dynamometer facility in during the day, he sees a possible synergy
Colorado. These tests are done on a wide range of wind turbine drivetrains and gear- there which could work in the company’s
boxes at various speeds, using low or high torque. West Texas operations.
This sort of testing is done with aircraft turbines, which have much higher quality FPL is currently engaged in a more
requirements. Every helicopter gearbox, for example, is run in like this to avoid initial tangible project in Florida. Its Martin
reliability issues. Plant complex (Figure 1) consists of over
This imported practice means that wind gear boxes are run in gradually so that the 2,800 MW. As well as a couple of 800
torque is also increased gradually and contact surfaces are placed under stress in a MW steam generating units, Martin
controlled and gentle manner. “In the field, the torque is much too erratic so you can- includes two 480 MW combined cycle
not run in the gear box so well,” says McNiff. “This practice greatly reduces the risk of units and two 160 MW peakers.
micropitting and scuffing of the gear box contact surfaces.” At that site, the company is building
Another area where he sees a bleed in from the traditional turbomachinery sector the first hybrid solar facility to connect to
is in material quality grades and finishes. According to McNiff, wind has found it nec- an existing natural gas combined cycle
essary to adopt the fine material quality standards of the aircraft industry. The steel power plant. Some 75 MW of solar will
being used in gearboxes, for instance, has to be high grade and relatively free of work in conjunction with natural gas as a
impurities. “People do not want to go near them for six months except to change the means of displacing a certain percentage
oil,” McNiff adds. of fossil fuel usage.
Auxiliary systems used in wind have also borrowed heavily from the mainstream At a cost of almost half a billion, this
power industry. In the past, wind turbine used single motor drives for their yaw and parabolic trough array will provide a
pitch systems, but they now use multiple drives. The Mitsubishi 2.5 MW turbine, for heated working fluid to an existing steam
example, has six yaw drives and the Siemens 2.2 MW has six. “We have learned these plant. This will reduce the natural gas
lessons from the machinery industry that it is vital to share the load,” says McNiff. “This requirements at that facility which will
also helps to keep component size down.” have a net output of 1,050 MW. Around
180,000 mirrors will be spread across
nology and has the lowest risk, says EPRI’s tion to be planned and facilitates solar 500 acres, with construction to be com-
Libby. “But other solar technologies electricity generation at night. pleted by the middle of 2010.
should also be evaluated on a project-by- Andasol 3 is a parabolic-trough power Albiasa Corp. of Spain has announced
project basis. Power towers, for instance, plant being built in Andalusia, Spain. a 200 MW hybrid project to be construct-
can offer higher overall efficiency.” Parabolic reflectors covering an area of ed at Kingman, AZ. Others in the pipeline
Meanwhile, Man Turbo is supplying a 500,000 sq. m concentrate the sun’s ener- of various utilities are scheduled for
steam turbogenerator set with an output gy to heat thermal oil circulating in Victorville, San Joaquin and Palmdale —
of 50 MW for the Spanish solar power pipelines to just under 400°C. This heats all in California.
plant Andasol 3 in conjunction with Solar water to produce steam in a second cir- The Albiassa project will pair a utili-
Millennium. The double-casing machin- cuit via a heat exchanger. The steam is ty-scale CSP trough with an existing
ery train with intermediate superheating used in a Man Turbo steam turbine to steam turbine, says Jesse Tippett, a direc-
was rated for use in this solar thermal drive the generator, which then supplies tor at the company. “You are going to
application. The water-steam cycle was the electricity. start seeing turbine-based systems using
optimized and the steam turbine adapted While steam and even gas turbines all fuels including biofuels, with solar
to achieve improvements in efficiency. have played a small role in existing CSP designed in from conception.”
A portion of the solar energy generat- deployments, the industry could soon be He believes the key driver for hybrids
ed during the day is conducted into ther- seeing a whole new level of solar-turbo- is as a means of intensifying the benefits,
mal stores. This permits power produc- machinery partnerships in the near future. as well as mitigating the shortfalls of both
sides. He laid out the pros of solar: it fol-
lows peak demand, 20-year fixed fuel
costs, green. Fossil plants, on the other
hand, have a much higher capacity factor
and are based on proven technology. For
example, solar provides most of its power
between noon and 7 PM, with a peak in
the middle of the afternoon. Baseload
resources can be used the rest of the time.
A big plus for such schemes, at least in
the U.S., might be an easier permitting
process and lower installed costs. Hybrids
are using land, resources and interconnec-
tivity that are already in place. Hybrids
should cost less than half a pure CSP
Figure 3: A hybrid system that uses solar power in place of duct firing operation, says Albiasa’s Tippett.

www.turbomachinerymag.com November/December 2009 • Turbomachinery International 17


Solar cannot just be tied into steam and
USING LOW-GRADE GEOTHERMAL HEAT away you go. There are plenty of prob-
Geothermal energy today includes combinations of electric power generation, heat- lems to overcome, though none appear
ing and cooling. For electricity production, there are three basic types of geothermal insurmountable. Justin Zachary, Manager
power plants; dry steam, flash steam, and binary cycle. Interest in binary cycles has of Technology at Bechtel Power Corp.,
received a boost in recent times since these systems can use less expensive, lower tem- says the requirements of solar are quite
perature geothermal wells. The binary cycle power cycle operates at lower tempera- different and that normal turbines are not
tures of about 225°F to 360°F. designed for solar.
While there are a large number of heat sources at this lower temperature, the A typical plant might have 2,000 starts
potential thermodynamic efficiency is reduced, resulting in a high capital cost per kilo- over its typical life, says Zachary. “Solar
watt of power generated. Consequently, there is a great incentive to modify this cycle requires 360 starts a year for 20 years.”
to achieve its maximum potential efficiency. In operation, these systems transfer the
heat from the hot water to a secondary working fluid, usually an organic compound Steam concerns
(refrigerant) with a low boiling point. This cycle is often referred to as an Organic Zachary laid out a series of possible
Rankine Cycle (ORC). Integrated Solar Combined Cycles
The advantage of this cycle is that it is not necessary to operate the system at low, (ISCC) configurations for solar integra-
sub-atmospheric pressures, and associated high volumetric flow rates through the tur- tion. In ISCC, a steam bottoming cycle is
bine and heat exchangers. In the ORC cycle, the pressurized organic motive fluid is used in a combined cycle plant to convert
vaporized in an unfired boiler heated by the hot water. The vaporized motive fluid is solar thermal energy into electricity.
used to drive a turbine-generator, after which it is condensed, pumped back up to the Zachary proposes that the size of the
turbine inlet pressure, and again vaporized in the boiler. The cooled water is injected steam turbine be increased by up to 100%
back into the reservoir. compared to a conventional combined
GeoTek Energy, LLC, a geothermal developer, and Concepts NREC, a provider of cycle set up.
turbomachinery systems engineering, are developing a Gravity Head Energy System Temperature plays a major part in the
(GHES), which significantly increases the overall cycle efficiency by 20% to 30%. A choice of a specific configuration. For
major contributor to the improved overall cycle efficiency of the GHES is the applica- example, parabolic troughs provide tem-
tion of a high-performance, compact turbo expander-pumping unit installed deep peratures in the range of 370°C to 385°C,
within the wellbore. while solar towers offer temperatures up
The expander is driven by the high-pressure motive fluid flowing down the well by to around 500°C. At the higher range, the
gravity that has been heated by up-flowing geothermal brine. The expander is direct solar steam field generation is close to the
coupled to a brine pump and therefore provides the required energy to pump the main steam conditions and therefore eas-
brine to the surface. This configuration eliminates the electrical loads associated with ier to integrate. As such, it can potential-
the motive fluid pump and the production well geothermal brine pump common to ly be fed directly into the turbine. At
the conventional geothermal ORC system. medium temperatures, on the other hand,
A special design feature of the expander pumping unit is the complete isolation the solar steam should go to the High
between the hot brine and the motive fluid. This is critical in order to avoid crossover Pressure (HP) superheater.
contamination between the two streams. Due to the downhole location of the The most efficient use of solar energy at
expander pumping unit, reliability and access for maintenance are also key features to the medium temperatures provided by par-
the design of the unit and overall GHES. The motive fluid discharge from the expander abolic troughs would be in supplementing
flows back up the well with sufficient energy to feed a surface mounted turbine-gen- saturated steam generation, says Zachary.
erator and produce power. The surface turbine is designed to operate at the syn- “The least efficient usage would be in feed-
chronous speed of the generator. This eliminates the need for an intermediary gear- water preheating or steam superheating.”
box and its associated losses, says Concepts. Zachary also took a look at how to
integrate solar with standard Rankine
Meanwhile, EPRI is conducting Lenzie Station natural gas combined cycle steam plants. At HP CSP, the steam
research in conjunction with seven major cycle 1,240 MW. Some 95 MW of solar could be directly mixed with the main
utilities. Libby says that solar steam can be will be added and replace duct firing steam from the boiler to the HP turbine at
integrated into the main steam supply, Heat (Figure 3). Construction begins in 2011 a subcritical plant. However, he cautions
Recovery Steam Generators (HRSG), with completion scheduled for 2014. that direct integration of medium temper-
feedwater heating, cold reheat or in cogen. Pulverized coal, though, can also be ature CSP in coal-fired boilers would
She cites benefits such as lower fuel usage, attractive due to impressive emissions encounter complexity and require
minimization of regulatory pressures, earn- reductions. Tri-State’s 245 MW Escalante advanced controls.
ing plant revenues through renewable ener- Station in New Mexico will pair up pul- Hybrid systems must include indepth
gy credits, achieving higher cycle efficien- verized coal with 36 MW of solar. analysis of the transient behavior of the
cy and the potential for lower cost com- Siting, though, requires careful con- entire system, says Zachary. “Lack of
pared to standalone solar. sideration. Solar requires a lot of space experience with utility-scale ISCC means
EPRI has conducted a couple of con- — about four to eight acres per MW that control schemes must be developed to
ceptual design studies on hybrids — one according to Mints. Further, ideal instal- protect component integrity. While pre-
gas and one pulverized coal. “Natural gas lation conditions are restricted to areas dictable, the intermittent nature of CSP
combined cycle and plants with duct fir- such as the American West, the Middle steam creates a new set of requirements
ing are ideal candidates for hybridization. East and parts of India. for conventional equipment integration.”
You can replace inefficient burning with a “Integration designs depend on site Cesar Hidalgo Lopez, a solar consultant
free source of steam.” specifics,” says Libby. “If you have to at GarradHassan GL, agrees. “The control
Nevada Energy, for example, has bring solar hot fluid a mile, for instance, it system of a CSP combined cycle plant
announced a hybrid project for its Chuck can drive up costs. So siting is important.” would be extremely complex,” he adds. TI

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